The Family Stone

The Family Stone

“…The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight…”

-Khalil Gibran

I’d say that the sharing of ‘Joys and Sorrows’ is the most covenantal thing we do as a congregation. It’s a family affair.
I would say it’s the most covenantal thing we do as a denomination, but most of our UU parishes no longer do ‘Joys and Sorrows’ – at least, not the spoken (‘live microphone’) kind.
And I am fairly sure that we (UUCC) are the only congregation of our size still daring to hold space in our hearts – and services – for open sharing.

It is a deeply risky ritual.
It requires a deep trust among all of our members – and we can all feel it in the moment the first voice steps to the microphone on Sunday mornings.
We (your clergy) are careful to try to set the tone for our family’s stones.
Brief. Personal. Profound. Non-partisan (politically). Give us your name, and we’ll give you our undivided attention – more or less.
Many times, these spontaneous moments of soulful joy and sorrow spoken aloud are unspeakably profound. Heartwarming. Soothing to our spirits in ways we did not (and could not) plan for in an order or service.

These open-air truths can sometimes also be soul-searing.
The speaker’s heart is in the right place. The intent of their sentiment is loving and free of ill-will.
Yet the delivery of their melody (tone and phrasing) falls flatly off-key in that moment. Or stings sharply – inadvertently cutting like a knife, and leaving some of those bearing witness with a hollow feeling.
The sharer’s intent was joy. But the impact was sorrow.

Many of our family members of color have shared personally and privately with me the first-degree burns they’ve experienced in Joys and Sorrows over the past few months.
A handful of our elder white members (not any one in particular) have shared of their delight in being able to openly express affection publicly with a loved one in their life – who happens to be a person of color. A loving and heartfelt truth, particularly for a spirit who has lived through generations in which an interracial hug would’ve invited a firestorm of hatred.
Molotov cocktails. Burning crosses. Sorrowfully, even early gravestones.

Often, I am standing close by the stones table during Joys and Sorrows, and I sometimes become the object of that family member’s affection.
Their truth – “I am so joyful to be able to hug Anthony.
Their phrasing – “I am so glad to be able to hug a big black man.
And many in attendance (of all races) have cringed. Not just members of color, but also those white souls who are their partners, spouses, close friends, siblings, and dearly beloved co-workers.

In truth, black is – as Sly would say – the ‘skin I’m in’.
I am a relatively tall, relatively big, black man.
This is pointed out to me by both white and non-white people every day of my life – and twice on Sundays.
Perhaps, nowhere more than in my years at Morgan State University (where the commentators were all black).
But – that same sentiment can feel stone-cold to a person of color when it ’s coming from a white person in a mostly white room – on a live microphone.
In that context, the phrase ‘big black man’ feels (to many spirits) more like an object than a person. And that particular phrase is loaded.
‘Anthony’, on the other hand, is the name of the person you know (and perhaps, love) – who happens to be black, among many other things.
I am everyday people.

I’d invite us to (as Paige and I often do) make our Joys and Sorrows personal and profound. And, whenever possible, to speak the names of the beings about whom you are joyful or sorrowful.

I’d also invite us to offer these kinds of ‘shares’ sparingly.
If you were the only child of color in a mostly white family, it might feel deeply isolating to have your aunts and uncles say often “I am so joyful to be having Sunday dinner with a black child.
If you were the only transgender person in a mostly heterosexual and cisgender family, it might feel deeply partisan to have your cousins say constantly “I am so delighted to be able to hug a transgender person.”
You might begin to feel like an object. Or an underdog.
Or an anthropological curiosity. A ‘thing’ to be checked off on a bucket list.
You’d love to simply feel loved. To just be family.

One of my heart’s joys is this UUCC family.
We are all different races, genders, nationalities, orientations, politics, and theologies.
Yet we are this blended family of choice.
We contain multitudes.

We have chosen the road less traveled – which is this kind of congregation, with all of its sometimes deeply difficult conversations.
We have chosen to grow together in covenant.
We endeavor to talk to each other and not about each other, in covenant – particularly when it’s the most painful.
To share our joys and sorrows – even when we, inadvertently, are someone else’s stone of sorrow.

And we (all 400-plus of us) return again every Sunday, and begin again in love.
Somehow, there always seems to be enough space in the water bowl to contain all of our shared stones.

It’s as if we carved it that way.

Thankfully (and Thoughtfully),


  1. Carla Gates

    Beautifully written, Sir Anthony! Also… don’t think I didn’t catch ALL the Sly ( and the family stone) references 😉

    In Love & Peace,

    Carla Gates

  2. Ned Tillman

    Thank you for making my day and my life richer. In tough times there is always a glimmer of hope that we can be better. Let’s hope that UUCC is a fusion of beautiful, interlocking crystals as strong as granite, not brittle like glassy obsidian.

  3. Jill Christianson

    Yes,yes,yes – we will take this in. I appreciate that, with love , you have chosen to share, and importantly invest your self with UUCC. Deep thanks Anthony!

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